Now and Then - Ski battalion

Date
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ski battalion leningrad staraya russa siege
Body

Chernyshev bridge, Leningrad. Winter of 1943 / Lomonosov bridge, St. Petersburg. August 2021

Soldiers of a ski battalion marching across the city to the front.

From the memoirs of gun battery commander of the 234th Artillery Regiment, 188th Rifle Division, Senior Lieutenant Chistyakov Sergey Georgievich. Taken from www.iremember.ru, translated by Alexander Shmidke.

"The land of Staraya Russa is famed for its mosquito infested bogs in the summer and deadly peat mire in the winter. They suck our guns in. Today is February 10, 1942. I left Lieutenant Mamadjanyan on my post at the observation post (OP) and left off to the burial site. Death is always sudden at war. You live by tomorrow's joys, waiting for something good to happen. You only don't expect your own death. Right next to the fresh crater by Anishin's crossing there lie the soldiers who were killed in yesterday's battle: Senior Lieutenant Bulatov, commander of the 3rd battery, Sergeant Romanov, commander of the recon platoon of the 1st battery, Andrusenko, commander of the signals detachment, scouts Skvortsov and Blinov. All of them were killed at Bryanshinsky crossing, at the OP of the 1st and 3rd batteries. Signalmen and scouts. On the other side of the pit the bodies of the dead are covered with cloak-tents. A mass grave is being prepared. Death leveled everyone: ranks, military professions, ethnicities. From now till forever they will lie next to each other. Soldiers from OPs of both batteries stand with their hats in hands, revealing their fair, blond, dark, red and long uncut hair. We stand and watch the plaster-cast faces of those who shared with us everything, news and tobacco, just the day before. I pause and peer into Romanov's face. When he fell, I ran up to him and heard his tormented half-whisper:

- Commander, will I make it?

These were his last words. Now he is lying, dressed in my trenchcoat with three cubes on the lapel - Senior Lieutenant.

He put it on to make it easier to command the soldiers of the 25th Ski Battalion when they fought off an enemy attack along the railroad from the side of Gorodskaya Sloboda. There were around 20 submachinegunners with us at Bryanshinsky crossing, the remnants of a ski battalion. Their Lieutenant was killed along with Bulatov when we counterattacked the enemy, trying first of all to knock down the heavy machine gun they set up on the bridge across Sominka. Senior Sergeant Romanov was the one who took charge of the group of skiers. Kombat [Battalion commander] Bulatov was one of only three people sporting fiery-red hair who I met during the war. Now Bulanov's hair, gold-tinted and fluffy, frame his marble face like a halo.

- Fix his cap, it's slid down on his face, - whispered Zubov to the horse driver Tairov. He didn't even move.

The grave pit has been cleared. Tent-cloaks were strewn across its bottom, bodies are being laid. We look into the faces of our friends and comrades one final time. Farewell. A punishing artillery raid of both batteries was their salute. As I walk to my OP, the faces of those who we have just covered with soil keep appearing before me. It seems like Romanov has just sat in our dugout by the makeshift stove, holding a letter in his hand. This letter with his little son's hand outlined with a pencil is still there in the dugout. Just like a blossoming flower, I thought to myself. Now there's one more orphan in this world."

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